Thursday, May 03, 2007

I Read (1/2) a Book, Now I'm an Expert

Anyone who's read more than one post in this blog (and I thank you, even if you arrived by searching Google for "Drowning in a Sea of Lust") knows that I don't write about politics. I figure:
1) Having moved to Israel says as much about my politics as I want to make public

2) Having moved to Israel as a high-tech professional, I knew about as much about Middle Eastern politics as the typical East Coast high-tech professional someone who lived in the caves of Lascaux.

3) Having been a Math major in college - mostly to avoid having to study "fuzzy subjects" like History and International Relations - I had no idea how to formulate a political opinion from scratch. Note: When I started my first job (at IBM), the minimum voting age was 21, so I was too young to vote when they gave us time off on election day to do so.

4) The politics of my friends in Israel seem to cover a fairly broad spectrum from Left to Right, with individual variations so numerous that the term "spectrum" is too's either more like a Moebius Strip or more like a sphere.
But, after 18 years of listening to ongoing discussions of politics and religion at every social gathering of more than 5 minutes' duration, and after 2 1/2 years of selective reading of political blogs written by and about Others, including Sandmonkey, In Lebanon, Nizo, Good Neighbors, On the Face, Michael Totten, Global Voices Online, and actually meeting some of these political bloggers in person, I succumbed. I read a book about Arabs. Well, to be honest, I read one-half (198 pages) of the book and then went on a trip and loaned it to Nominally Challenged, who promises to finish it by tomorrow (we'll see)! But those pages so jolted my brain that I'm looking at the Middle East from a different perspective, and I'm willing to risk the wrath of the blogosphere by writing about it. Well not exactly writing all about the book, as I haven't finished reading it, but writing about how it influenced my reading of newspapers while I was on my recent trip in the USA.

What happened is this: I went to a reception hosted by Pajamas Media at a conference in Hertzliya back in late December, ate some tasty free food, and met a bunch of bloggers. I even blogged about it, in conjunction with my Report Card Project, which by the way has not died, just gone on holiday. The organizer of the conference was Professor Richard Landes. There was a followup Koffee Klatch where unresolved conflicts were raised, discussed, shouted about, and still unresolved. I asked Prof. Landes to recommend a book about Honor/Shame cultures, and he suggested The Closed Circle:An Interpretation of the Arabs by David Pryce-Jones. I made an investment representing roughly the equivalent of my monthly telephone bill to acquire the book (shipping books to Israel is not a trivial matter, and there is a local dirth of Public Libraries with useful collections in English).

I started reading it, and found it fascinating although slow going, which is why I had only half-finished it by the time I left on holiday at the beginning of April. I'm guessing Pryce-Jones has a point of view congenial to Professor Landes's, and I would welcome hearing from you what you think of the book (provided you read it first). While flying coast-to-coast on said holiday, I happened to run out of reading material and was reduced to scrounging a copy of USA Today from the flight attendant. I was pleasantly surprised to come upon this article, and to find it consistent with stuff I had read about in The Closed Circle relating to power challenges.

Then I proceeded to read an article called The Ploy, in The Atlantic Monthly (no link, for subscribers only) which explains how the information was obtained that led to the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. Again, the behavior of the chief inner circle informant was consistent with stuff I had read about in The Closed Circle. I wonder whether the interrogators of Task Force 145 have read the book?

My political education continues, and I hope yours will too. I suspect an open mind is the best antidote to a closed circle. Even if you live in a cave.


nominally challenged said...

I did, in fact, finish the book last night! So you'll be getting it back today, as promised :)

Savtadotty said...

Nominally, I thank you; now I will shut up and read it through to the end.

Anonymous said...

dorothy you can guess who this is. Your nonpolitical blog is the opposite of Larry's therefore less infuriating, or not at all. but it is good to be distracted from the troubles in the world.